President Barack Obama delivered his fourth State of the Union address on Tuesday, and the first of his second term. In it, Obama laid out a surprisingly ambitious agenda from a president stuck with a radical, do-nothing House of Representatives.
While it remains to be seen how much of his agenda Obama can push through, the president’s speech had some outstanding moments, and proposals that hopefully will be enacted sooner, rather than later.
#1: “In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness, they’d devastate priorities like education and energy and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. And that’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts — known here in Washington as ‘the sequester’ — are a really bad idea.
“Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training, Medicare and Social Security benefits. That idea is even worse.”
Obama called out Republicans for their continued foot-dragging on dealing with the sequester. While the draconian cuts to defense and health care will have a negative effect on the economy, Republicans appear to be boxed in by a refusal to raise taxes by one dime more.
Obama rightly called out Republicans for their recalcitrance, and moreover, attacked the Republican “cut our way to growth” plan as the pipe dream it is. After doing that, Obama went on to reach out to Republicans, saying he was “prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.”
Naturally, Republicans will refuse that proffered hand, as they have done repeatedly since taking over the House in 2011. That’s okay, though; Obama once again appears to be the magnanimous party, offering to work with his opponents even as they refuse to entertain even the barest thought of working with him. If and when the sequester cuts happen, Republicans will have to take ownership of them.
#2: “Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late. [...]
“But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
Obama took his toughest stand yet on global warming, flatly telling Republicans that if they won’t work with him, he’ll go it alone and take executive action to fight carbon emissions.
Obama’s threat is not an idle one. Courts have upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and that means that the EPA could simply regulate carbon emissions under powers given to them by the Clean Air Act. Indeed, the EPA is already regulating carbon emissions from automobiles and stationary sources.
Obviously, more could be done with the cooperation of Congress, and Obama is right to seek out Republican help. Still, assuming that Congress refuses to act, Obama can take a number of steps to help reduce the long-term damage from greenhouse gasses.
#3: “[R]right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, faith communities, they all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Now’s the time to do it.”
Obama made a straightforward call for comprehensive immigration reform, but wisely steered clear of specifics. Why is that wise? Because there is, at least for the moment, slow but bipartisan movement on immigration reform in Congress, and pushing too hard is only likely to upset the apple cart.
He did, however, make a strong call to fix “the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods and attract the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.” That’s important, because right now, legal immigration policy is a labyrinthine disaster. Streamlining legal immigration would have the salient effect of discouraging undocumented immigration — why sneak into the country when you can enter it legally?
Image Credit: White House
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